Easter At Mkhuze

Easter At Mkhuze

Zebra Portrait
Zebra Portrait

With four days to play with Sharon and I opted to take Emma to Mkhuze Game Reserve for her first ever Easter. We of course invited granny who loves the bush, and amazingly my sister flew out from the UK to join the adventure. So a family Easter in Mkhuze it was.

Not knowing how Emma would deal with long hours trapped in her car seat we decided to leave just after 4am. The theory being that she would (hopefully) be asleep for the first hour or two of the journey, making it both easier and more sane for us adults.

Leaving so early did however mean that we’d arrive at Mkhuze long before check in, so we decided to detour through both iMfolozi and Hluhluwe in the hope of seeing some cats before entering Mkhuze.

Although they had recently reintroduced lion into the park, thus making it a big 5 park, only 4 lions were released. The chances of seeing them was therefore very low. The park also contains only 9 cheetah and roughly 45 leopard. Not a great place to see cats, but a birders delight.

Our trip though iMfolozi started with a stop at Mpila camp for the usual analysis of the sightings board, which was sadly empty. We then grabbed a quick coke and headed for Sontuli Loop. Both the game viewing and the birding were slow, and Sontuli was suspiciously quiet.

By the end of the loop we’d seen the usual game as well as some good rhino, but very little else. With Emma getting a little restless in the car we decided to head for the exit in Hluhluwe, knowing it would take around 2 hours to get there.

By the time we reached the gate Emma was fast asleep and we’d had a great elephant sighting, but still no cats. Sad, but I guess that’s what makes seeing them both exciting and special.

Rhino calf in Mkhuze
Rhino calf in Mkhuze

We bid our farewells to Hluhluwe and headed for Mkhuze some 80kms to the north. Thankfully the dirt road was in good condition and we made good time, finally arriving in camp at around 2:30pm. Being a public holiday the office was already closed so we headed straight for our units and unpacked the car.

Everyone was a little tired from the early rise (and close on 10 hours in the car) so at 4pm I left everyone napping in camp and headed out on a solo drive.

I chose to head south past the viewing tower, which was worthy of a quick climb for its spectacular views. From there I turned left and headed into the sand forest where I spent half an hour in the Masinga hide. Amazingly, despite it being sunset, I was the only person in the building. I sat in absolute silence watching the glowing sun drop below the horizon while sipping on an ice cold beer. Africa at it’s best!

Back in camp I was greeted with the loud noises that come with a new baby in the family. The silence of the hide was quickly forgotten as we fed Emma, bathed her, and put her to sleep. And then we once again got to enjoy the “silence” of the bush over a crackling fire and a bottle of wine.

Kerry and Emma swimming
Kerry and Emma swimming

During the night we had a few mozzie interruptions which meant checking Emma’s mosquito net was in place and sorting out our own. But despite that we were well rested in the morning when my mom and sister joined us for a drive just after 6am. We boiled a few eggs, brewed some coffee, and packed the left over braai meat for a breakfast in the park.

We initially headed towards the main gate having heard reports of wild dog. Sadly there were none to be found. Being the African bush it wasn’t a complete waste of time as we enjoyed a fantastic hyena sighting in thick mist. It was almost eerie.

We then headed down to Nsumo Pan where we enjoyed our breakfast overlooking the misty water. When we arrived we couldn’t see the far bank but by the time we left the sun had burned off the mist and we could feel the heat of the day building.

We continued around the park on the main tar road stopping for 15 minutes to wait for an elephant to finish browsing and move off the road. You can’t beat Africa’s traffic! With the road clear we continued on to Masinga hide for a quick look for the fabled twinspot. Sadly with none in sight we returned to our chalet for lunch.

After a great meal of left over Christmas ham (don’t ask) Sharon, Emma and I headed over to the pool for an afternoon swim. The temperature was over 30 degrees and the pool area was rather crowded. Amazingly however the pool was empty thanks to some dark magic which ensured the water was still freezing. Kerry joined us and we swam for half an hour or so before heading back to the chalet to watch the Sharks game.

Cheetah on a kill in Mkhuze
Cheetah on a kill in Mkhuze

Since the Shark’s game was at 3pm and Emma was tired of spending hours in the vehicle we decided to skip the drive and rather watched the game. Thankfully the Shark’s didn’t dissapoint and emerged victorious. We then decided to head out for a quick hour’s drive before the gates closed at 6pm.

Since it would take too long to do most of the roads we opted to once again go in search of the wild dog and headed for the main gate. Game was a plenty but there was no sign of the dogs. I wanted to stop at the KwaMalibala hide but Sharon over-ruled me and opted we continue on to the main gate. Clearly she was in the know as just around the corner we came across a cheetah kill. Speaking to one of the two vehicles waiting they confirmed there were 2 cheetah but they’d moved off.

Emma on her first ever Easter egg hunt
Emma on her first ever Easter egg hunt

We continued on to the gate which wasn’t far away, took a look at the camp site, and then headed back to the kill. This time we caught a glimpse of the cheetah sitting 10 meters of the road. We stopped the car, cracked a beer, and sat watching the beautiful cat. Granny meanwhile entertained Emma to keep the peace. The cheetah then stood up, walked over to the kill, and fed before lying down.

Since it was almost 6, and pretty much pitch black by this stage, we started the car and headed back to camp. On route there was a blinding flash next to me which I’m hoping was an animal trap. Very strange.

Back in camp we enjoyed another braai before heading off to bed for a better night’s sleep.

The next morning was Easter and there were eggs to be found. That said there were also animals to be seen. We therefore opted for a quick morning drive to be followed by an Easter egg hunt (in the bush, Africa style) and a cooked breakfast.

Our chosen route was back to the cheetah kill. We weren’t expecting to actually see the cheetah again as they are generally scared off their kills. We were however hoping to see hyena, vulture, and perhaps even a jackal. Amazingly this was not the case and the carcass, although still fresh, had attracted no scavengers.¬†From the kill we headed back past the hide and then on to camp for the eagerly anticipated hunt.

My mom and sister hid the eggs in the bush while Sharon and I kept Emma entertained inside. We then set her free on her first ever hunt. She got off to a slow start and took a while to find one of the eggs under the braai. This may of course have been due to the fact that she didn’t know she was meant to be hunting. However once she found one or two eggs she was beaming. We then picked her up and helped her with the rest which had been hidden in the nearby trees and bushes.

Family photo on the Mkhuze viewing tower
Family photo on the Mkhuze viewing tower

Sharon, not wanting to be outdone, then hid eggs for my mom, sister and I in the house. This saw us scrambling for quite some time and we promptly donned Sharon the master hider.

Breakfast followed, although by the time the egg, bacon and sausages had been cooked it was really lunch time. This was then followed by an afternoon nap for my mom and sister, and another visit to the pool for Sharon, Emma and I.

For the afternoon drive we opted to head along the Mkhuze River road. The bush was a lot thicker and sightings were few and far between. The hide on route, Kumahlala, was as deadly quiet as the other hides had been. From the Mkhuze River road we continued south along the air strip, and that was where we found the Easter bunny – our sighting of the day.

As the sun set, painting the sky with oranges and reds, we were heading back to camp and passing the viewing tower. We stopped quickly for a family photo in the golden rays and then continued on to camp.

For the last time of the trip we lit the fire and sat around the roaring flames drinking beer and tanning meat.

African wild dog at Mkhuze
African wild dog at Mkhuze

The following morning we packed up our chalets and loaded our bags into the car for our departure. The plan was to be out of our chalet by 7am but we had a minor hiccup in the process. After packing the car I couldn’t find my wallet. Realising we’d bought ice-creams Sharon ran off to the shop and the pool, while I unpacked the likely bags in the car. It was nowhere to be found. Eventually we gave up, climbed into the car, and headed out.

We opted to take the main tar road, past Nsumo Pan, and then leave the park through the new gate. Since we’d left camp later than planned we weren’t expecting much in terms of viewing and trundled along slowly. Sharon and I were sitting in the back with Emma while my mom enjoyed a rare sit in the front and my sister drove.

As we were nearing Nsumo Pan we came around the corner to the sight of a small pack of wild dogs resting on the road. Shock, shock, horror, horror. Emma, who was on my lap, was quickly thrown to my mom as I scrambled to grab my camera. The dogs thankfully hung around on the road for just long enough to snap off a shot or two before heading into the bush.

I was then politely reminded by Sharon that her losing my wallet is the reason we saw the dogs. And then, just as amazingly, I suddenly remembered that we had had the cooler box with us. We unzipped the front and low and behold, there was my wallet. A bad day turned into an incredible day.

After the dogs we headed for the gate and made our way home. The road between the park and the Sodwana Road had one short, bad stretch but was otherwise good. Emma thankfully slept for most of the way and we were back in civilisation before we knew it. Another great holiday in the African bush, this time with the family.